A Taste of Freedom at Home

Photo courtesy of the Emma Goldman Finishing School. www.egfs.org. Photo essay
spacer See our photo essay of egalitarian life in Seattle's "finishing school" for activists.

“I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things.”

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)


Let's say you're a typical wage-slave: you work a 40-hour week—at least 160 hours a month—on top of which you've got a nasty, desensitizing commute. What little time you have left you spend feeding yourself, and then collapse in front of a DVD.

Contrast this with life at the Emma Goldman Finishing School, an egalitarian social justice commune in Seattle where we lived for a year. On a budget of $100,000 Emma's provides a 12-person community with food, housing, heat, utilities, internet and phone access, health coverage, transportation, even a pension. Each adult contributes a “quota” of approximately 110 hours a month in income hours or labor hours. To start with, that eliminates the need for a full-time job. For us, it meant that Kibby's time cooking dinner, food shopping, doing home maintenance, gardening, or caring for our child had the same value as Adam's salaried hours at YES!

Emma's members also choose to cap their personal spending. These choices provide them time to pursue their activism and a lifestyle that doesn't contradict their beliefs. Living there challenged our assumptions, which in itself is perhaps the most liberating thing that can happen to you.

Photo of the Emma Goldman Finishing School, an egalitarian social justice commune in Seattle. Courtesy of EGFS
Photo courtesy of the Emma Goldman Finishing School. www.egfs.org. Photo essay

Take food, one of the most-discussed topics at Emma's. We bought wholesale, from our local co-op, and whenever possible, direct from farms. We didn't just buy organic, we avoided giant corporations riding the organic food craze. We discussed hosting a needs-based community food pantry, and the idea of buying locally-grown produce at double or triple market value in order to make local farming viable.

There have been many attempts to create an egalitarian society: why does this model work so well? First of all, the recruitment process is rigorous. By the time we moved in, we knew what we were getting ourselves into.

But above all, it works because of trust. Emma's members have weekly three-hour meetings, so there is always a chance to bring up issues and raise suggestions. The first hour is devoted to check-in, where everyone speaks freely about what is going on for them. Now, this sounds awfully touchy-feely, but it works. Grievances are aired and nothing festers.

Because the community provides all the basics, it's easier to see what are truly needs and what are unnecessary wants. Limited consumption becomes a route to freedom, not a restrictive asceticism. And trusting others—how liberating!

The people who established Emma's didn't wait for permission. They didn't look to some non profit to set them up in a communal house. A few passionate folks got together and worked to make it happen. Brava, Emma Goldman, past, present and future!

Adam and Kibby MacKinnon wrote this article as part of Liberate Your Space, the Winter 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Adam and Kibby now live in Winslow Cohousing on Bainbridge Island, just a five-minute walk away from YES! Magazine's offices, where Adam is the Online Editor. Kibby is currently training to be a Waldorf teacher.

See our photo essay on life at the Emma Goldman Finishing School.
Photo of Adam and Kibby MacKinnon
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